Inside the strange launch of Daylight Computer and first impressions

Picture this: the members of Rusted Root, the one-hit-wonder world music band from the 1990s that’s been haunting us in car commercials and romantic comedies for the past two decades, suddenly decide to reinvent themselves as tech entrepreneurs. They pack their bags, move to San Francisco, and start a computer company. What would their product launch event look like? Well, I imagine it would be a lot like the scene unfolding before us.

A different kind of launch event 

Outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park there is a steady parade on the trail of the weirdness that is still San Francisco. Middle aged couples clad in black Patagonia vests parade designer dogs, pausing to greet one another and inquire as to the name, breed, and age of their canine companions. One couple is sitting side saddle on a giant glittering whale sculpture, taking in the scene and wondering what in the world is going on on top of the flower hill. 

A crowd of two-hundred or so employees, friends, family, and a few scattered members of the press are milling about, slowly chewing half-burritos and hummus wraps, and drinking cold kombucha. There hasn’t been this many top knots and dreadlocks in Golden Gate park since the drum circle last weekend. There is not much chatter among the young population of techno-hippies, as small groups stand in circles and talk quietly amongst themselves. 

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A calm crowd at the Daylight launch event

Notably absent, however, is what has become the norm on such occasions of people staring at their smartphones, taking selfies, posting to social media. There is a horde of professional photographers and videographers running around, but as I pull my iPhone out to snap a few photos, I get harsh glances like I had just cussed at the preacher during the Sunday sermon. This is the emerging anti-tech crowd, a group of rebels who are pushing back on the dominance of technology with even more technology. When I spot a few people using smartphones, they are doing so discreetly. 

Welcome to the Daylight

We are at the highly anticipated launch of the Daylight Computer tablet, a new e-ink marvel that boldly promises to change the very nature of our relationship with technology. Apart from the invitation, what lured us here today was the product launch video. If you have not seen it yet, take a moment to watch, because it is a self-contained master class in copywriting and visual media. 

Set in the outdoors, featuring sunny days on hill tops, forested trails, quiet meditation retreats, the ad shows young beautiful people smiling and using the  sleek tablet in broad daylight — it is portrayed as a tool to be used in more natural ways, a new kind of device that will bring us back in balance with nature. For almost $800 you can restore and renew yourself, bring back the vitality in your life that technology stripped away, drifting off to sleep peacefully reading while basking in its soft amber glow. 

Daylight Computer Launch Video

Back in reality, we are invited inside the Conservatory of Flowers in small groups of four at a time to experience the Daylight Computer in the tropical air, surrounded by the many lush green plants, colorful flowers, and giant koi fish idly gliding in their pool. There is a soundtrack somewhere playing the calls of exotic birds and forest noises, punctuating the silence as we inhale the scent of flowers and earth and moisture. 

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Here and there on the rocks and among the quiet seating areas are scattered computer tablets, as if we just happened upon them on our day hike, as if someone wearing recycled footwear and woven fabrics had just been sitting in this exact spot mere moments before, drawing inspiration from a poem, or quietly sketching a lotus flower using the Wacom stylus. Perhaps they have just stepped away to brew a fresh cup of green tea, and will return here to enjoy it clasped firmly with both hands, breathing in deeply the slight fragrance of honey or passion flower.

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A Daylight in its natural setting

Our moment in the sun

At last, we have the marvel to ourselves, alone. We approach the Daylight, sheathed in hemp, inviting us to renew ourselves. The tablet computer is lightweight and framed in white. The screen has a kind of matte finish, a slight roughness that is pleasing to the touch. The vaunted e-ink is crisp, sharp, responsive. Daylight runs a custom version of Android so it is familiar to use. We pick up the stylus and write a few lines, sketch a jungle frog or two. The texture gives the user the impression of writing on paper, as there is a slight roughness, vibration, and friction to the pushing stylus. 

A great deal of work must have gone into eliminating the delay between the stylus and what is viewed on the screen, because the sensory effect of writing on paper is virtually flawless. The familiar gestures from other tablet devices such as zooming and panning work well, and the screen is just as responsive to touch as it is to the stylus. This experience is as promised, it is indeed a tablet that works well in natural light, something we could use like a book or like pen and paper. Then, our brief meditation is broken. Another group has come along, and our time in the warm Daylight is over. 

We move on to the next station. This time, the Daylight has a keyboard attachment, highlighting its utility as a general computing device. At the next, the Daylight is playing a video, showing that this is not your Gen X dad’s e-ink Kindle from 2010—it is a real Android tablet after all. We continue to follow the breadcrumbs, and before long, we are turned back out on the lawn of the Conservatory to find a seat and await the keynote speech. At long last, a bearded and long-haired figure emerges from the shadows, sporting a mustard-colored puffer coat and white hoodie, looking every bit the epitome of a Silicon Valley entrepreneurial cliché. A smattering of applause and a few whoops greeted Daylight CEO Anjan Katta as he takes the stage.

In a heartfelt but somewhat bewildering speech that could have easily been mistaken for a guided meditation or therapy session, Katta veers sharply from the usual tech launch script. Rather than waxing poetic about the product’s features, the company’s grand vision, or the hard work of the team, Katta launches into a deeply personal and introspective monologue about his own struggles with self-love, musings on the nature of technology and the human condition, and the emotional toll of being a founder whose mother worried he wasn’t living up to his Stanford-educated potential. It was a strange and memorable moment, but on further reflection, all very fine and fitting with the Daylight techno-hippie aesthetic.

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Daylight founder and CEO Anjan Katta

The luxury of wellness 

So that was a little weird and different, but maybe that’s exactly what we need in a world where technology increasingly shapes our lives and the pull of our devices feels inescapable. The very nature of modern technology exerts a powerful influence on our behavior, constantly drawing us in with the allure of endless scrolling, notifications, and the rush of likes and shares. This is not something that we can easily overcome on our own. It will require a concerted effort from both individuals and the tech industry to create products and habits that prioritize well-being and mindfulness over engagement and addiction.

Daylight’s approach, while not perfect, represents a step in this direction. By creating a device that is intentionally designed to be used in a more thoughtful and deliberate way, the company is challenging the notion that we are powerless in the face of technology’s influence. It’s a reminder that we have the ability to shape our relationship with our devices, but only if we are willing to actively resist the features that keep us tethered to our screens. In a sense, 

However, it’s worth noting that Daylight’s vision of digital wellness comes at a premium price point, placing it firmly within the realm of the booming health and wellness industry. The company is rumored to have raised at least $20M from investors over the last six years. With a price tag of around $800 per unit and assuming a 40% margin, Daylight would need to sell between 75,000-125,000 tablets to break even. While the sleek e-ink screen and promise of a more mindful relationship with technology are undoubtedly appealing, it’s hard to imagine the average tablet user shelling out such a premium for the Daylight experience.

Then again, the average tablet user isn’t Daylight’s target demographic at all. In a world where health and wellness have become a booming industry and a status symbol for those with disposable income, the Daylight Computer seems perfectly positioned to capitalize on the growing backlash against smartphone addiction and the always-on lifestyle.

While the Daylight Computer’s focus on digital well-being is commendable, it’s also worth considering its potential utility for busy executives and professionals. The device’s sleek design and distraction-free interface could make it an attractive choice for those looking to boost their productivity and focus. The e-ink screen’s readability in various lighting conditions and the responsive stylus input could make it a valuable tool for taking notes during meetings or catching up on reading without the constant bombardment of notifications.

Daylight after sunset 

As we continue to grapple with the impact of technology on our lives, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the solutions to our digital woes will not be as democratized as we’d like to believe. Something to keep in mind as the industry charges forward with artificial intelligence. The pursuit of wellness and balance will likely be a privilege reserved for the few, while the rest of us continue to mainline TikTok’s digital dopamine. Despite these challenges, we can’t help but feel a sense of hope. While it may not be perfect or accessible to everyone yet, it’s a reminder that as long as there are companies willing to challenge the status quo, there’s potential for us to create a more balanced and intentional relationship with technology. Maybe there’s a little techno-hippie in us after all. 

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